COVID-19: Unpacking new regulations for ICT industry
By Nozipho Mngomezulu, Peter Grealy and Cindy Leibowitz
The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) released the ICT COVID-19 National Disaster Regulations on 6 April. Given that each day of non-compliance with certain of the Regulations may result in a fine of not less than ZAR100 000 per day – it's important for industry stakeholders to know who these apply to and what is required.
The Regulations set out minimum standards that licensees (as defined in the applicable Act) must adhere to during the COVID-19 national state of disaster. This includes facilitating the distribution of information required for dealing with COVID-19 as well as post-disaster recovery and rehabilitation.
The Regulations apply to all authorisations, certificates, applications and registrations made and/or issued in terms of the Electronic Communications Act 36 of 2005 (ECA), the Broadcasting Act 4 of 1999 and the Postal Services Act 124 of 1998 (the Acts).
The Regulations make provision for various minimum standards that are applicable during the COVID-19 disaster. We have listed some of these below:
- Complaints resolution: Licensees are exempt from resolving complaints within the timeframes prescribed by ICASA in its regulations.
- Tariffs and fees: Any radio frequency spectrum licence renewal fees which became due and payable on 31 March 2020 will only become due and payable on 30 June 2020.
- Performance period for sound and television broadcasting services: The performance period for both sound and television broadcasting runs from 7am to 9pm.
- Syndication: Programme syndication may not exceed 45% per week of a broadcasting service licensee’s programming.
- Quarterly submission of programming logs and recordings to ICASA: This submission is suspended but programming logs must be kept at ICASA's request.
- Submission of applications: Hard copy applications for licences, authorisations and/or certificates are suspended.
- Television broadcasting services to persons with disabilities: Television broadcasting service licensees (excluding community television broadcasting service licensees) must ensure that broadcast coverage of all media briefings by the National Command Council includes a sign language interpreter.
- Deployment of electronic communications facilities: Licensees must notify ICASA of new installations of electronic communications facilities within seven days and ICASA will maintain a register of those facilities deployed during the COVID-19 disaster.
A type approval application for any electronic communications service facilities and equipment, which is intended to be used for the purpose of bringing relief or assistance during the COVID-19 disaster, must be submitted to ICASA. It must be accompanied by various documentation, including: a detailed submission setting out how the equipment that is being sought to be type-approved will be used for purposes of bringing assistance or relief.
Access to radio frequency spectrum
Temporary assignment of radio frequency spectrum: During the COVID-19 disaster, any licensee can apply to ICASA to dispense with licensing procedures for the licensing of radio frequency spectrum to enable ICASA to deal with the anticipated rise in demand for network capacity or data services. Two or more licensees may share radio frequency spectrum assigned to alleviate the challenges of network capacity. All spectrum sharing agreements must be submitted to ICASA for approval.
Obligations relating to IMT radio frequency spectrum licensees:
- Licensees with both electronic communications services and electronic communications network services licences and who have access to IMT radio frequency spectrum assignment must send their subscribers, free of charge and by SMS: at least two public announcements per day, regarding the prevention and management of COVID-19; and notifications of all announcements by the Minister of Health or the Presidency.
- ICASA will determine the number of district virtual classroom platforms to support virtual teaching during the COVID-19 disaster, which will be connected by the individual electronic communications network service licensees with access to IMT radio frequency spectrum assignment.
- All electronic communications service and electronic communications network service licensees must zero rate all COVID-19 sites as identified by the Department of Health.
The above Regulations will be in effect until the termination of the COVID-19 national state of disaster.